Robert Cormier’s book ‘Heroes’ opens by introducing us to the main character Francis Cassavant, a ex-military soldier, wounded by a grenade from when he fought in World War Two. There are three main characters in this book; Francis, Larry and Nicole. Throughout this book Cormier gives an insight into how all these characters interlock, with Francis’ mission, to kill Larry LaSalle. In the first chapter of this book Cormier introduces us to the main character of Francis Cassavant, and how he is presented as a hero; this chapter is based entirely on his appearance after a grenade attack from when he fought in the war.
Francis’ appearance has obviously changed dramatically as he refers to his face as a ‘gargoyle’ and that he has ‘no face’. Francis also refers to himself as the ‘hunchback of Notre Dame’ and that he is ugly with ‘no ears to speak of’ and ‘the absence of my nose’. This suggests that that he has been in a terrible accident and instantly makes you empathise, and feel sorry for him, but as you further progress through the book you see that maybe that Francis isn’t the hero and as innocent as he seems at first glance.
To add further detail Cormier describes his nostrils as ‘two small caves’. This portrays his face as almost like a monster or a mutant. We can infer from the text that Francis has low self esteem and has little or no confidence in himself and when his doctor says ‘don’t expect anyone to pick you for a dance’ doesn’t really help with the fact when he knows he’s ‘not normal’. Francis hides his face with scarves, a hat and a bandage fastened with safety pins, hiding his face tell us that he does not want to be recognised or perhaps to be seen by anyone he knows in Frenchtown.
People glance at me in surprise’ and ‘I don’t blame them’ shows that Francis is obviously repulsed and disgusted by the way he looks but isn’t afraid to say so, and also if he looks terrifying and repulsive, he isn’t going to be thought of as a hero. After in depth of describing the physical description of Francis, Cormier then moves on to the main plot, Francis’ mission to kill Larry LaSalle, dropping in little hints and sending up an ‘our father’ and ‘ ail Mary’ and ‘glory be’ for Larry LaSalle, and sending up prayers for Nicole Renard, instantly bringing all the three main characters together but still keeping them separate and not knowing why they are interlocked and how everything is more complicated then it seems behind the eyes of Francis, Larry and Nicole, and how Francis and possibly Larry could either be heroes or cowards.
Making Francis seem like an innocent war hero is an interesting and unusual move to make because it makes you feel sorry for Francis at the beginning but as the story unfolds you see that there is more than meets the eye about Francis and how his ‘heroic status’ isn’t as heroic as it seems. One of the ways Cormier presents the concept of heroes is in chapter nine, the chapter when Larry LaSalle reveals he is going off to the ‘fight the japs’ in the Second World War.
So when the news first broke that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbour in an attack, a wave of frenzy and fear washed over America. People had ‘patriotic fever’ meaning that they weren’t just feeling patriotic about their country; it was as though a fever had taken over and had plagued through everyone. That day Larry LaSalle stood before everyone in the wreck centre, his ‘movie-star smile gone replace with grim faced determination’ he was ready to go and ‘fight the japs’ he announced that he was going to war, he had ‘anger that we had never seen before flashing in his eyes’.
From the quote we realise that Larry is passionate about fighting for his country, but from the way he displays and announces that he is leaving and going to war and when he says ‘none of that kids’ (referring to when the kids clap when he announces he’s going to war) ‘I’m just doing what millions of others are doing’ he almost says it in a way that he wants to be recognised even more as a hero, and he also tries to make it seem as though it’s not important about what he’s doing, but by the way he flaunts it he makes it seem like he’s doing some great and powerful favour for America and the people of Frenchtown.
This shows the concept of heroes because as soon as the opportunity comes along to be a hero, Larry will grab it in an instant and makes sure that everyone knows about it and about how it’s making him a hero. This chapter explains the events from Larry returning home, to the episode that happens at the end of the chapter and that is when we come to realise Francis’ hatred for Larry LaSalle. When the crowd are waiting for Larry’s arrival, we see that he is described as ‘Lt. Lawrence LaSalle, US Marines Corps, holder of the silver star’ from this quote we can immediately see that he is being shown as a hero.
He is also the star of ‘newsreels’ and ‘radiobroadcasts’ making his seem very important; like a vip – almost a god as far as the town are concerned. They describe him as ‘a bright pied piper’ saying that he can get the towns children to follow him. It shows that he is quite a powerful and a big role model in the children of Frenchtown and maybe not only with children, the adults also seem to love, worship and adore him. In Larry’s actual arrival those there to greet him add the heroic atmosphere.
The town goes to greet him at the station, adults, old people and children from the wreck centre are all there to meet this so called hero. When he arrives you instantly remember his ‘movie star smile’ revealing his popularity and confidence. ‘We cheered’ this shows that he is loved and respected by his fellow people and people look up to him as a ‘hero’. You could still see ‘a touch of Fred Astaire in his walk’ implying that he still is the same old Larry, but now ‘lethal’. Him being described as lethal implies that he has changed from coming back from the war; he’s thinner, sleeker. My war hero’ people shout from the crowd. People are proud of him for fighting for their country, they really respect him. ‘Ribbons and medals on his chest’ are a visible representation of him being a hero. Physically the descriptions of Larry show how much he has changed from being a cool dancer to a ‘slender, knife like killing machine’ he has now changed into a ‘knife-like’ and ‘lethal’ with sharper details, the hero that we saw before has now become a ‘superhero’ in the town’s eyes. ‘You are our celebration’ the mayor proclaims to Larry, emphasising Larry’s heroic status.
He is now the town’s hero when he is given ‘the silver key to the city’ people would immediately think that he is of high heroic status is the mayor gives him something so important to the city. When he gives his big speech he says ‘we need to keep the world safe for these young people’ saying this he is almost trying to cover up for what he does later. At the celebration, towards the end Larry tries to get Francis to leave the wreck centre, so he can have ‘one last dance’ with Nicole, he says that ‘this is important’ and he manipulates Francis. Just me and her alone’ makes it feel like something terrible is going to happen. So Francis leaves, ‘I’ve got to go, you and Larry stay. One last dance’ his words sounding false as though Larry placed them in his mouth.
She wants him to ‘stay and watch’ but he leaves, to his and Nicole’s misfortune. When the attack happens, it shows just how unheroic and cowardly both Larry and Francis are. ‘In the shadows of the hallway’ Francis lurks waiting for Nicole to leave the Wreck centre, but then Larry does the most inexplicable, disgusting thing, he sexually assaulted her. A sound that could have been a moan and a rustle of clothing’ even though Francis knew something was going on in there, he still couldn’t pluck the courage to go see if his girlfriend was alright. When she ‘stumbles out of the hallway’ she sees Francis, and he saw ‘the betrayal of her in her eyes’ as she runs away, Francis hears Larry, this now shows how wrong people were about Larry and about how he is not a hero but something of the complete opposite ‘whistling the tune-‘dancing in the dark’ as though he had done nothing wrong, that this was normal.
It’s amazing that the heart makes no noise when it cracks’ Francis is truly heartbroken, and it shows just how cowardly Francis and Larry can both be. In chapter 14, we see how much of a hero Francis could be when we finally get to the part where he goes to kill Larry LaSalle, Larry is no longer a hero. When he sees Larry you can see that Larry’s physical appearance has changed drastically as he’s ‘yellowed with age’, a bit ‘feeble now’, and ‘fragile now’, with ‘white hands’. Larry is not innocent’ and no longer a hero. Francis explains his unannounced visit, with a gun in his hands. Larry ‘rises slowly’ from his chair as Francis begins to question him.
‘You were our hero’ Larry was their hero, he did everything for the people of Frenchtown and now his heroic status had just fallen through the roof, ‘ no more sweet young things’ Larry says, saying as though its normal to sexually assault someone who’s young. Even there heat is sweet’ he says giving Francis even more of a reason to kill him, but he falters when Larry says ‘does that on sin wipe away all the good things. ’ He falters because he’s probably thinking about what he did for him, with the Table tennis and if it wasn’t for Larry renewing the Wreck Centre, Francis would never had been with Nicole, with all these mixed emotions and feelings Francis walks away. But when Francis walks away ‘the sound of a pistol shot cracks in the air’ Larry LaSalle had shot himself.
Cormier presents the idea of heroes in his novel, one by setting it in the time of World War Two, which has lots of potential for heroes because theirs the concept of being a soldier. He also presents the idea of heroes by making two characters seem like heroes at first glance but then stripping them of their heroic status by things that come to haunt them from the past that had never been dealt with. Also with Nicole Renard and how she is the innocent victim in this and how one incident made both Francis and Larry cowards and very un-heroic.